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Charting the Middle Course

The Star Trek Films and 1980s Science Fiction Cinema

4. 1976 to the Present

2. 1976–1988

  1. Ina Rae Hark

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf075

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Hark, I. R. 2011. Charting the Middle Course. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 4:2:73.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


Science fiction, as a genre about encounters with the unknown, holds out both the promise of wonder and the fear of disaster. Possibly because disasters are both more cinematic1 and more dramatic than wonder, when the movies do SF we are more likely to see what we dread than what we hope for. The first two distinct eras of the genre emphasized fears, but of different things. The 1950s, of course, used the genre in low-budget B-pictures without big stars as a prism to reflect on the anxiety of nuclear annihilation, either from the communist foes of the Cold War or as unintended consequences of America's own deployment of the atomic bomb. In 1968, after a waning of the genre early in the decade, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes reinvented screen SF for big budgets, expensive effects, and, in the latter case, a major movie star in the lead. Both of these films also deviated from the formula in which either the communist threat or the unintended consequences of nuclear testing appeared in the symbolic guise of a monstrous Other. Here the monsters were clearly humans themselves, come to the end of their evolutionary usefulness and replaced by an alien-designed Star Child, on the one hand, and evolved primates, on the other.


  • star trek;
  • science fiction;
  • cold war;
  • humanism;
  • television;
  • rebirth